Friday, October 22, 2010

Of Bob Dylan and Swollen Ankles

I went to a Bob Dylan concert last night. It was amazing (though he looks and sounds quite a bit different from the above video).

I had floor seats, so I stood for over two hours. I also wanted to avoid event parking, so I parked in a lot that I use for work and walked a good 15 minutes to the venue. These all seemed like good ideas in theory, but I forgot to account for what being 35 weeks pregnant is doing to my body. My ankles are not pleased with me.

It was worth it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Halloween Costumes: My Poor Kid

First off, isn't this commercial awful:

I absolutely love the homemade costume, and I think the Target version is not only unoriginal, but also probably misleading. Store-bought costumes don't ever look as cool as you think they do.

I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to be for Halloween since I am going with my husband to a party at his office. I've decided I will be a bowling ball hitting a bowling pin. This costume will be homemade and probably pretty simple since I'm huge and exhausted and (ahem) running out of time (oh, hello, October 21--didn't see you there!)

In the past, I have been a mixed drink (created out of a clear shower curtain and some hula hoops; I was repeatedly mistaken for a shower, but seriously, who dresses up as a shower?), a blue crayola (with some help from my mom, made out of blue fabric, lots of fluffy stuffing, a witch's hat, and some blue construction paper), and many other homemade concoctions.

You see, I'm a very creative person--as long as all I have to use is my mind. My visions never quite materialize as I imagined them when I have to get my hands involved, but that doesn't take the fun out of it.

At any rate, I can totally see my child's Halloween going something like this:

I'll have the best intentions, I promise.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh the Dichotomies!

With my due date ticking ever closer, I've been thinking a lot about labor and delivery. As I mentioned in previous posts, my ultimate goal is to go med-free. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I've been trying to prepare myself the best that I can.

This preparation has included talking with other women (on messages boards, I don't know any real-life women) who had med-free births, reading (Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Sarah McMoyler's The Best Birth, among others), watching videos of natural births, watching The Business of Being Born, and talking with my husband about our plans.

I feel mostly prepared, but I also feel somewhat helpless. There is so much that's beyond my control. What if I don't go into labor "on time" and the doctor wants to induce? What if my blood pressure sky rockets? What if the baby is breech? What if I can't handle the pain? I know these are questions that every mother faces, but they make it hard for me to be as confident in my  birth plan as I feel I need to be. I can't go around saying "I will do it this way" when I don't know for sure how things are going to go.

I can say, however, that I plan to give birth naturally. And while doing that planning, I've been running into both sides of a very thickly drawn dichotomy.

The two sides go more or less like this:

Side 1: Doctors are evil. They are only concerned with making money and they are just puppets of the big business that makes up our health care system. They force you to do things that you don't want to do out of sheer convenience and so they can bill your insurance company (which is also evil) for more money. They don't care about mothers or babies, and most of the time they don't even know anything about natural births. In fact, doctors are bored by natural births because there's nothing for them to do, so they try to intervene. They also want you in and out of the hospital as quickly as possible to clear up the beds. Plus, they want you to have a c-section because it makes them more money.

Side 2: Those crazy natural-birthers have no idea what they're talking about. They are a bunch of granola-eating hippies who are willing to put their bodies and their babies at risk. Not to mention, those women are obviously trying to impress us all with their holier-than-thou attitudes, and it's ridiculous to think that a woman should have to endure that kind of pain to be a mother. I'm no one's hero, and all that matters is a healthy baby. These women are crazy.

Surely, there is some middle ground here.

I like the idea of giving birth in a hospital where I can get help if something goes wrong. During my delivery, my mother labored for 36 hours without progress. I was born via emergency c-section. They later discovered that a previous (non-pregnancy-related) surgery had left her unable to push in the right direction. If she hadn't been in a hospital, I might not be here. I had some complications early on in this pregnancy that left me with a 50/50 chance of losing my baby in the first trimester. It was terrifying, and I was comforted by the medical advances that let me see my baby's heart beating well before I could feel her move. I trusted my doctors to give me the best advice and took all of their restrictions to heart, working as hard as I could to make sure my baby would be okay.

That said, I know where the ideas about doctors and the medical system being money-driven and corrupt come from. We have a messed up medical system. I think most of us realize that. That doesn't mean that each individual doctor, nurse, etc. is caught up in that corruption. I'm an educator, and I would hate for people to look at me as a representative of the American education system. I'm a good person who does my job for the right reasons, and I know there are plenty of doctors and other medical staff that are the same.

Most of the books I've been reading say that women are "forced" into interventions they don't want, and they may be. But after interacting with other pregnant women in my local area, I realize that most of them aren't going to have to be forced into anything. They look forward to induction dates and have a epidural waiting for them when they get to the hospital. They are making choices (probably some informed, some not).

That brings me to the other side: in my experience, other pregnant women are pretty harsh about natural birthers. A group of women at a breastfeeding class (who didn't know I was planning on going natural) spent a good chunk of time bashing another (absent) woman from their birthing class for planning to go med-free. They made fun of her and talked about how she was "out there" and "trying to be a hero." They then used this as a platform to reinforce each other that their decision to use medication is the right one.

Then, I looked at the Amazon reviews on the McMoyler book, which supports medically-assisted births as well as natural ones and purports to give women the tools to have the birth they want (with flexibility for the unexpected) at a hospital. It has several good reviews, but it also has several one-star reviews. Almost all of these bad reviews focus on the fact that McMoyler doesn't mention support for doulas (instead, the book is a huge proponent for a highly involved father at the delivery). I have nothing against doulas, but not everyone has access or resources for one. And not everyone is comfortable delivering in a birthing center. Shouldn't there be resources available for these people?

Look, informed decisions based on individual needs and realistic scenarios are the right ones. We don't have to battle over this. My (hopefully) med-free birth isn't an attack on your epidural. My choice to go to a hospital isn't trying to dismantle the home birth.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Endangered Man

I'm almost certain this is not a new thing, but it certainly seems to be coming to some sort of crux, at least in the media. The September 27th issue of Newsweek's cover story was "Men's Lib," a call to "reimagine masculinity at home and at work." The cover proclaimed "the traditional male is an endangered species."

Then, on Monday, Slate's partner site Double X ran "Real Men Cry and Do Laundry: An anthropology of the new male self-improvement mags."

Together, these two articles and the studies and concepts they reference piece together a rhetorical trope that's picking up steam: men need to change their idea of masculinity or risk getting steamrolled into oblivion.

"Men's Lib" focuses primarily on the fact that the jobs of the future are the ones currently dominated by women. There is growth projected for teachers, nurses, home health aides, and customer-service reps, but decline for machinists and manual laborers. This prompts the authors to conclude "the next generation of Homer Simpsons will have to stop searching for outsourced manufacturing jobs and start working toward teaching, nursing, or social-service positions instead."

Though the underlying message of this piece rings true to me (that is, the landscape of American professions is changing and people are going to have to change with it), the doomsday scenario for masculinity does not. I find myself in agreement with Rachel Sklar's critique of this piece when she says:
 "I challenge the framing of the issue: That men are in crisis, on the decline, and “going off the rails.” In fact, the framing of the male-female ratio as being more ‘dangerous’ to men as it equalizes or, in some (very limited) situations, inverts, is not only wildly skewed but also completely fails to appreciate, consider and include the full context – i.e. how gender parity might actually be better for all concerned."

She then precedes to do a close analysis of individual flaws and holes in the piece, most focusing around the fact that it's not as complete of a picture as it presents itself.

The Double X piece has a lighter, more positive tone, positioning that this juncture "leaves an opening for newer, younger voices who face the twilight of the patriarchy head on—and yet also provide a formula to restore men's cultural potency."

It also talks about new websites and magazines tackling these issues, particularly the website The Art of Manliness, which--in addition to articles about what to bring on a first date, how to buy a used car, and how to swing from trees like Tarzan--includes articles like "Three Moments Every Father Dreads (And How to Cope)."

Though I certainly can't analyze everything that's going on here in a single blog post, I am interested at looking at how we are conceiving of "masculinity." Obviously, it's a loaded term and like "feminist" (which was the topic of another recent, and contentious, Slate piece). Terms like these are frequently defined by those who self-identify as a member of the group but are often steeped in negative definitions: they define who belongs by disqualifying those who don't. (For example, Gloria Steinem says that you can't be a feminist if you don't support legal abortion.)

This sort of exclusionary language ends up with people drawing smaller and smaller boxes around themselves until (at the extreme) the definition only fits the speaker. This certainly doesn't open up discourse about the concepts and it makes them more or less meaningless.

Furthermore, any time that we are going to categorize someone as different (be that on the level of class, race, gender, in-group status, lack of in-group status--basically anytime we can place someone on the "them" side of the us/them dichotomy), we have to use some sort of culturally constructed cues and markers.

The authors of the Newsweek piece mention some of these markers for masculinity when they mention a "rapper's saggy jeans, a hunter's concealed weapon, a suburbanite's man cave, a hipster's obsession with Don Draper: all might be seen as variations of the same coping mechanism. The impulse transcends race and class." They go on to recognize (though not with much depth) the problematic aspects of these markers: "Conceiving of masculinity as something to be"--a part to play--"Turns manliness into [something] ornamental, and about as 'masculine' as fake eyelashes are inherently 'feminine.'"

I guess my problem with this is that fake eyelashes are as capable of being "inherently" feminine as they are of being "inherently" anything else. What I mean by this is that I don't think we have to knock down the cultural markers of masculinity in order to transcend the current boundaries. This is the same impulse that makes me cringe every time someone suggests a woman wearing lingerie cannot be a feminist. Ultimately, the Newsweek article arrives at a conclusion I can get agree with: "If today's men want to be hunters, or metrosexuals, or metrosexuals dressed in hunting clothes, they should feel free. But they need to be more than that, too." But doesn't that seem a little obvious. If today's women want to be bakers, or dress seductively, or bakers who dress seductively, they should feel free. But they need to be more than that, too. In fact, we all need to be more than the external markers that allow us to be pegged into certain groups. It's called being human, and learning to accept that stepping outside of those boundaries doesn't have to threaten our entire identities will make a world of difference in the way we talk about these issues. Men don't have to be endangered.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Waiting for Superman

I went to see Waiting for Superman last night in a packed, standing-room only theater. I cried at least twice. It was a great movie, and though some critics suggest (rightly, I'm sure) that it glosses over some of the more complicated realities of fixing our troubled school systems, I believe that it had a great mix of heartbreaking drama, tentative optimism, and immediate enthusiasm. They praise charter schools, and while it's true that not all charter schools are as good as the ones portrayed in this school, it's also true that we've figured out how to tell who's getting it right. That's got to be a step in the right direction, right?

I am deeply dedicated to causes of education. My job at the university is working with students who are from underprivileged backgrounds. I am very committed to this work, but I often feel like I'm not doing enough. I work with undergraduates (and sometimes high schoolers). I'm seeing the students who have persevered through great odds to get where they are. I don't have to see the ones that didn't.

I am also deeply disturbed by education as a future parent. I live in the city limits of a school district that hasn't had accreditation in years. Schools have been closed, teachers have been laid off, and parents have been outraged. But nothing has changed. I've volunteered to do workshops in the city schools and seen first-hand that the problems run deep: too few resources, not enough dedicated teachers, students who have long sense stopped trying.

I went to the only public school in my rural hometown, and though I now--after meeting lots of people who got private educations--realize that there could have been more opportunities for me (foreign languages, more advanced classes, better extra curricular activities, etc.), I truly believe that I had dedicated teachers who helped me succeed. I thank them for getting me where I am today.

I cannot, however, in good conscience send my daughter to any of the public schools in our district. And neither can most of the other people around here. My city has seen a dramatic incline in population, and this is largely because very few people stay once they have children. It's a great place to live, but an awful place to go to school. I don't know yet what we'll do when my daughter is school age, but I know we have to start planning it soon because it will definitely be expensive (private school), life-changing (a move to the county that I really don't want to make), or nerve-wracking (crossing our fingers for charter school entry like the parents in the movie).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Follow Up: Mythos Maintenance in Prada

As I was thinking about my last post, I remembered a scene from the (very disappointing) Sex and the City 2. The scene where Charlotte and Miranda find the bravery to discuss their struggles with motherhood over cocktails. Here's a clip and discussion from The View.

Yeah. Both of these fictional women have full-time (even live-in) childcare. Their view of motherhood is bleak, focusing solely on the difficulties. This is pretty much the view of motherhood for the whole movie.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mythos* Maintenance: Another Job for Mothers?

(*Please note that I'm using the term "mythos" in a literary sense, that is as a narrative culturally constructed and socially maintained. It is in no way a comment on it as fictional or untrue.)

After what felt like a particularly long week at work, I spent a lazy Friday evening lounging on my couch, cursing Direct TV for providing nothing worth watching. Then I saw that Bill Burr's new-ish stand-up show was coming on Comedy Central. I enjoyed it.

One of his bits was about motherhood. Here's a clip:

I'm not easily offended by comedy, and I can see how some people could take offense at this piece (and a lot of other stuff Bill Burr does too, but you're usually not a very good comic if you're not pushing the edges). Over at Good Enough Mother, she analyzes this little bit of comedy by admitting that there are harder jobs: astronauts and coal-miners in particular.

But she has a poignant response involving the amount of pressure that mothers feel, both from themselves (you know, not wanting to permanently damage their kids) and from society. Specifically, she says:

This is the part that really chaps my backside. It’s the completely unrealistic expectation placed on us by society. Like the (false) idea that once we have kids it’s all about them and they should be the center of our lives. Or that motherhood is always a fulfilling experience that we will enjoy 24 and 7. Or that we should stop pursuing things that we are interested in because all of these other people take priority. No, no and no.
I see this as directly related to Bill Burr's comment that mothers are "constantly patting themselves on the back." And I see that directly related to a phenomenon I've started seeing everywhere: the pressure to help maintain the mythos of motherhood.

For example, I attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital yesterday. (As a side note, the class provided me with nothing I hadn't already read, which was a little disappointing). The instructor was running late, so all of us pregnant ladies were standing around with our husbands/partners in tow, chatting. As one could expect, the conversation was quick to revolve around the thing we all had in common: our progressing pregnancies.
At one point, it went something like this:

Pregnant Lady 1: And I had to take the three-hour glucose test.
PL 2: Oh my gosh, you poor thing. I couldn't even imagine having to drink that thing again.
PL 3: Oh, I know. It was so awful. I got about half way through and was begging for some water. The nurse wouldn't let me have any.
PL 1: I had fruit punch the first time and orange the second time. They were so terrible. And mine wasn't even cold. They didn't have it chilled or anything.
PL 3: What? That's terrible! Mine was cold.
and so on and so forth.

Now, I took the glucose test. I don't think I'll be ordering any bottles of it to keep on hand, but it wasn't that bad. I just chugged it down and waited an hour for a quick blood draw.

Do I really think that I'm somehow tougher than these other women? That I'm the champion of glucose tests and that these women need to suck it up? Of course not. I think that these women were participating in--and being encouraged to participate in by the surrounding pregnant ladies--the important job of maintaining a cultural mythos.

In this case, that mythos is that motherhood is difficult, and that women deserve praise for their ability to go through it, even from the very earliest stages.

All of this rambling is to say that I feel left out. I don't feel particularly good at participating in this ritual. I found myself saying something like, "I just chugged it. Wasn't so bad" and feeling like I had failed somehow. The same goes for most of my pregnancy symptoms. I've been sick to my stomach several times, but I've only really experienced morning sickness sporadically. When people ask about it, it seems like they want me to bemoan how difficult it's been and seem somewhat disappointed when I say "Oh, I've been sick a few times, but nothing major."

And part of my problem is I just don't want to focus on negative things. Yes, my feet swell, my clothes don't fit, my back hurts, and I have mood swings that challenge my adolescence to a duel. But I've had worse things happen to me.